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No. 1 overall pick Torkelson puts on show in BP

@beckjason
July 4, 2020

DETROIT -- Spencer Torkelson put on a show for the Fourth of July. Only the Tigers had the chance to see it. The buzz had been building during the day about Torkelson taking batting practice on Saturday afternoon, less than four weeks after the Tigers made him the first overall

DETROIT -- Spencer Torkelson put on a show for the Fourth of July. Only the Tigers had the chance to see it.

The buzz had been building during the day about Torkelson taking batting practice on Saturday afternoon, less than four weeks after the Tigers made him the first overall pick in the MLB Draft, and less than a week after he signed his contract. The handful of media cameras around were waiting as soon as he walked out of the dugout, though waiting from afar in the stands for social distancing.

Torkelson didn’t disappoint. It was just batting practice, but for a fan base that has waited through a rebuilding process, then waited this summer through a pandemic, it was a glimpse that was badly needed.

Torkelson's most impressive ball kept soaring out toward the deepest part of left-center field at Comerica Park, where right-handed pull hitters go to see their power sapped. Much like the ball Torkelson put over the scoreboard and onto the street at Cal State-Fullerton in March, though, this one kept going, eventually landing near the flagpole.

That flagpole used to be in play when the ballpark opened, back when Torkelson was a newborn. Many a right-handed slugger have come to curse that area, starting with Juan Gonzalez 20 years ago. Torkelson can aim for it, and other depths of this ballpark, too.

Essentially, this was the first time the Tigers have seen Torkelson work out for them in person. Unlike a lot of Draft picks, the former Arizona State slugger did not have a pre-Draft workout for the Tigers or any team due to the coronavirus pandemic. Their contact leading up to last month’s Draft was electronic. Detroit added him to the 60-man player pool to get a head start on working with him, but also to allow him to learn how Major League players prepare for a season, for a game, for an opponent.

After Torkelson emerged from the visiting dugout -- Tigers players are spread out across three clubhouses in Summer Camp for social distancing -- general manager Al Avila was among the first to greet him, giving him a tap on the back on his way to stretch and then pointing him out to Miguel Cabrera. Manager Ron Gardenhire looked to joke with him briefly, maybe trying to loosen him up. But the smiles from Torkelson suggested he had no trouble enjoying it all.

“This kid’s a really exciting baseball player,” Gardenhire said earlier Saturday, “and this organization has had a great Draft.”

It wasn’t quite the display that last year’s first-round pick, Riley Greene, put on in his batting practice at Comerica Park last summer, when his drives to the upper-deck porch in right field had Cabrera joking to call him up now. As a right-handed hitter, Torkelson had no porch to target, but he still put on a show for the fortunate few who could watch.

Once Torkelson settled in after a couple rounds, the balls started flying, one after another. Some landed in the left-field seats. One went screaming over the visiting bullpen on the way there, and it would’ve startled a pitcher getting in his reps if all hadn’t long since finished their work for the day. Another just missed the shrubs in left-center, banging off the upper part of the wall. This was the all-fields power that made Torkelson a logical fit for Detroit. In the process, he made Comerica Park -- one of the bigger ballparks in the Majors -- seem small.

The Tigers spent the first version of Spring Training watching Torkelson hit drives like this in an Arizona State uniform. Scouts got to see him to person, while other team officials watched from afar through online streaming. This was the chance to see his talent up close and personal.

The same went for Tigers players, many of whom had yet to meet their new slugger-in-waiting.

“I met him a couple months ago,” Tigers pitching prospect and fellow northern California native Matt Manning said. “And so we’ve been talking, texting, hanging out. We’ve been building a relationship. I like him a lot. I’m excited for him to be out here with us, and he’s going to help this team tremendously. It’s a great time to be a Tiger.”

Jordan Zimmermann was just entering his prime seasons with the Nationals when Bryce Harper arrived as a teenager eight years ago. He wasn’t going anywhere near that comparison, but he was curious to see what the Tigers have.

“I see his numbers and they speak for themselves,” Zimmermann said of Torkelson, who would’ve become Arizona State’s career home-run leader had the college season not ended abruptly in March. “I’m excited to see him. The young guys, they bring a lot of energy to the club. I’m not sure he’s going to be up this year, but he’ll be helping the team in the near future.”

By unofficial count, Torkelson ended up with eight or nine home runs in batting practice. He then grabbed his glove, ran out to third base and took ground balls from infield coach Ramon Santiago. Avila gave him another set of kudos before he went back down the tunnel to the clubhouse.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.